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Indepth Arts News:

"Roy Lichtenstein on the Roof"
2003-05-01 until 2003-11-02
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY, USA

Six sculptures by the celebrated American artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) will go on view in The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1. Selected from the collections of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and the estate of the artist, Roy Lichtenstein on the Roof will highlight brightly painted or patinated bronze and fabricated aluminum sculptures. Created in the 1990s, each work makes amusing reference to Lichtenstein’s own painting or to the work of such modernist artists as Picasso and Brancusi. The works will be exhibited in the 10,000-square-foot open-air space that offers spectacular views of Central Park and the New York City skyline. The installation will mark the sixth single-artist installation on the Cantor Roof Garden.

The installation is made possible by the Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust.

On view will be: the nearly 30-foot-tall Brushstrokes, 1996 (fabricated 2001); the 17 1/2-foot-wide House III, 1997 (fabricated 2002); and four vertical, quasi-figurative works ranging in height from 7 1/2 to 12 feet: Galatea, 1990; Brushstroke Nude, 1993; Endless Drip, 1995; and Coup de Chapeau II, 1996.

Born in 1923 in New York City, Lichtenstein majored in art at Ohio State University and served in the army during World War II. He obtained his master of fine arts degree at Ohio State University and taught there for several years, more returning to the New York area in 1960. He soon became famous as an inventor of Pop painting, known for his bold yet refined and witty adaptations of the shorthand of commercial illustration that use techniques and subjects from love and war comics. By the mid-1960s the subjects of high modern art and modern design became important themes in his work, as he adapted the work of Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, and Mondrian and the styles of Cubism, Futurism, Purism, German Expressionism, de Stijl, Surrealism, and Native American art in his paintings and in many of his first mature sculptures.

Lichtenstein had been making sculpture on and off since art school and returned to it in 1965. Much of his sculpture has extended and played on his fascination with various conventions of commercial art and high art. For example, his sculpture, like his painting, is often partly colored with Benday dots, the round specks used in commercial photoengraving to model a subject from light to dark in order to convey the illusion of volume on a two-dimensional surface. Many of his three-dimensional works since the mid-1960s are nearly though not quite flat; generous in height and width, they are at most a few inches deep.

The curvaceous bronze Galatea gets her form from a single narrowing line that begins at her base and describes her torso as three ovals – a belly and two breasts. From these the line continues upward to suggest the abstracted silhouette of a head seen at a slight angle. The line culminates in a wavy tress of blond hair outlined in the cartoonlike style Lichtenstein used for decades in painting and sculpture to depict brushstrokes. The forms appear to resemble Picasso’s paintings of 1932 of his nubile mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Lichtenstein has given his flat Galatea an illusion of roundness – thus volume – using several amusing means: the slanting parallel lines of red bronze that fill the contours of her belly and breasts signal conventions used in painting for shading or modeling, and three short cylinders protrude from these ovals to act as nipples and a belly button. Also, with the reverse curve of her single supporting leg, counterbalanced by her off-center belly, Lichtenstein hints that Galatea is standing in a posture of contrapposto, a pose in which one part of the body is twisted in the opposite direction from the other part. This stance, too, implies volume.

In his Brushstroke Nude contrapposto is exaggerated to the point that the female figure—red and white on one side, blue and white on the other, mirror-image side—has the appearance of a fashion model twisting to show her outfit as she minces down the runway.

Another emphatically vertical sculpture, Endless Drip, is a cousin to the artist’s many renderings of brushstrokes in paintings and sculpture. It revives a characteristic of certain Lichtenstein sculptures of the late 1970s, in which the materialization of something evanescent – such as bronze steam rising from a sculptural coffee cup or bronze light beams cast by an overhead sculptural lamp – is conspicuous. The title of the work refers to Brancusi’s famous Endless Column (ca. 1920). It also resembles a figure, perhaps a slippery bronze personage by Hans Arp.

Coup de Chapeau II, a flat bronze work, harks back to the vocabulary of Lichtenstein’s Pop paintings. A cloud at the base leads to a swoosh of wind that becomes an explosion, reminiscent of those in paintings and low reliefs of the 1960s. The hat at the top, taken from Dagwood Bumstead’s hat in the cartoon "Blondie," is knocked off the head of a figure the viewer does not see. The French words of the title are slang for "tip of the hat," or a salute. The French word coup literally means a blow or a strike, which suggests the force of the explosion.

Late in life, Lichtenstein created several House sculptures, which evolved from his large-scale Interior paintings of the early 1990s, as well as from work on an unresolved project with the technology of hologram projection that revived the artist’s interest in inverted perspective. The installation will feature House III, which creates an optical illusion for viewers: the corner of the house seems to project forward although it actually recedes. The Museum has provided landscaping for the sculpture, in accordance with the artist’s intention that House III be seen on a slight rise. The "folds" in the window curtains resemble brushstrokes, Lichtenstein’s code for art itself.

Roy Lichtenstein
Painted and fabricated aluminum
29 ft. 51/4 in. x 13 1/2 ft. x 7 1/2 ft
Long Island, NY
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

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